The Montessori Method challenges educators to shape the curriculum and pedagogy around the developmental needs of each age group. There is no universally accepted or articulated framework for psycho-social development the way there is for biological development, and frankly, I don’t know many educators or doctors who give much thought to it beyond the superficial stereotypes.
But Dr. Montessori was deeply intrigued by it, as were several of her contemporaries (Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, and Anna Freud to name three), and they created a solid foundation in developmental psychology, although their theories never seemed to affect mainstream practices significantly. We know a lot about teenage behavior from neurological research (they’re developing their frontal lobes) and biochemistry (for example, the chemicals of adolescence create mood swings), but why do they feel so lonely? Why will they engage in something that we think they will mock and then mock something we think they will like? What is the difference between an 8-year-old who wants to learn and an 8-year-old who doesn’t want to learn?
I believe that the better educators understand these tasks, the more effective our education will be. We cannot help our students become the best version of themselves, if we don’t truly know them — and know which phases will pass. We need to work *with* their natural drive rather than against it whenever possible. In this day and age, with so much data and science and information, it’s shocking how dependent our entire child-rearing system is on gut and intuition.
There’s a lot of information missing still, but most schools are not addressing the information we do have. I want to spend the next few weeks (here on this blog) discussing what the developmental stages are and how TFS addresses each of these stages in our own way. The more we all understand our children, the better we can love and grow them.
Week 1: The First Six Years of Life
Dr. Montessori proposed that there are four major phases of childhood (she called them the planes of development) from birth until 24 years of age. In the first phase from birth to six years old (infancy/early childhood), children focus on physical independence and the core task is to create their personality. They are developing independence from mom biologically, and from all adults in terms of fine and gross motor skills. They want to do concrete tasks by themselves, take care of themselves, and work on skills that interest them. The foundation of their character, a positive sense of self, will come from their achievements in physical independence.
These are very broad generalizations, fleshed out over decades and thousands and thousands of written pages, but suffice it to say, most of us recognize our kids in those descriptions. An eight year old does not find the same joy in zipping his own zipper as a four year old. No one is quite as moody and contrary as the two year old who is setting her boundaries (except maybe the adolescent–we’ll address that later). Big things are happening inside them during those early years that will shape the rest of their lives, and that’s why we give as much attention to the three year olds’ curriculum and day-to-day experience as our high schoolers’.
Stay tuned next week for Part II of Birth to 6 Years.